Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ice & Fire: Done

It's a Finish, People!!

I finished Ice and Fire in a binge of handwork on Boxing Day.

Officially Quilt #40, it was started on Thanksgiving Weekend 2004. Like a few other of my quilts, the design and fabric selection happened independently of each other, then merged together. I don't remember which came first. The design was just this little notebook sketch:

It would turn out later that working with so many triangles would pose some challenges for me. I'd have to make special templates for them, and arrange for eight 45 degree points to more or less meet at the center of every block. But for now, all of that was in the future. I just liked my design.

It would also turn out that this is a venerable old pattern, with a traditional name (although I can never remember what it is), that people have been making for at least 150 years. This is par for the course. When you work with simple geometric shapes, like I like to do, you are not going to stumble on much that has never been thought of by the generations upon generations of quilters that have come before you. Such is life in the fiber arts.

Meanwhile, the day after Thanksgiving brought with it the traditional annual spending binge at the early morning JoAnnes sales. At the 2004 sale I bought two sets of cheap batik fabrics with the intention of using them for some unspecified future project. My mom rolled her eyes at both of them. Regarding the set of four that went on to be used in Ice and Fire, she has subsequently been forced to recant. (On the set of two that make up the still-unfinished Batik Boxes, she was pretty much right, as you'll see sometime next year.)

Eventually, I noticed that I had a set of four fabrics and a design that needed a set of four fabrics, and came to the obvious conclusion. I made most of the blocks in the 2005-06 season, moving at a steady but slow pace. Getting the eight-point meets as accurate as I wanted them took a lot of doing, and plenty of re-doing too. All of the blocks were complete by the beginning of the dismal 2006-07 season, but I didn't manage to do anything but get them assembled and pinned to a back that year.

Something else that happened in Fall 2006 that would indirectly benefit the piece, though, and that was the machine quilting class I took from Helene Knott. That taught me, among many other things, the painter's tape trick, which I used extensively with Ice and Fire. Just as importantly, it gave me the confidence to increase by as much as three or four times the density of my quilting on large pieces.

The actual quilting happened over the last four months, and in October the SoTC readers helped me pick the name. I finished the binding at a guild meeting on December 10, and got to show it off as "close enough" to done at that point. Finicky detail work and the addition of a hanging sleeve on the 26th officially took it over the finish line. It's the first time I've finished anything for half a year, and the first time I've finished anything besides a baby blanket in a year and a half, so "done" is a good feeling.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The December Lack-of-Progress Report

Hmm, I've left the post that talked about being sick up for three weeks. My quilt-blog discipline went to hell when the Q4P blogring bit the dust. But just in case anybody has been wondering: I'm fine. Healthy as a horse. A healthy horse.

December has been a tough quilting month. One reason has been the end of the college football season, which takes away my guaranteed weekly intensive quilting times. The other reason has been, of course, Christmas. I do love me some Christmas, but it certainly does take vast swathes of times with all of the planning and cooking and buying and making and wrapping and this and that and the other thing. Hard to keep the momentum going on the craft projects.

The upside is, I have several projects needing only some final handwork to get finished, and several days of holiday downtime with the family coming up in which to do handwork. You do the math! I'm hoping I can start bragging about some finished projects soon.
Here's the bin full of my Christmas homework.
It has Ice and Fire, Two Complex Shapes, and all four of the Four Seasons in it, along with everything I'll need to work on them. Which is a lot of homework -- I'm betting on winter weather forcing everyone to stay indoors and spend a lot of time gabbing -- but I'm also going to be bringing along Labyrinth. The quilting on Lab' is about 80% finished, and I must say I'm pretty happy with how it's coming along....

Happy Holidays to all you fabulous readers, and to everyone you know, and to everyone else too!

Monday, November 26, 2007

This is Not a Post!

I got sick last week, and wasn't able to make the yearly Thanksgiving trip up to my sister's place.
In terms of momentum on my immediate quilting goals, it wasn't too bad of a hit. I lost all of the primo handwork time that comes with hanging out with the family at the holiday, but gained tons of home-sick-not-able-to-do-much-but-quilt time. I made plenty of progress, actually, especially on Saturday afternoon during the sad dismantling of the so-recently great University of Oregon football team.

Not a Quilt For My Sister!

Since we were going to be at her house, I had really hoped to get a picture this year of a quilt I made for my sister a few years back, but never adequately photographed. I was going to share it with you in this very post.

In its place, here's Kandinsky's 1923 painting Black and Violet.

Not a Family Tradition!

Not travelling to my sister's place also meant skipping the holiday tradition my mother and I have: waking at 5:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Friday and going down to the local JoAnne's to take part in the early-morning sales. We've been doing this for six or seven years. Even now that I'm too snooty to buy much actual fabric at JoAnne's, there's still plenty of other stuff on major sale; in particular, I usually lay in a year's supply of batting.

My plan was to take a charming little photo montage of this yearly adventure and to post it here for posterity. Alas, because I was sick at home, it never happened. So, instead of a cute shot of Mom as the two of us sneak out of my sister's house, here's Whistler's famous Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Artist's Mother.

This was going to be a picture of the other shoppers lined up in the rain and dark! Instead, it's a picture of a Depression-era breadline.

Obviously, since I wasn't there, I couldn't ask anyone to take a shot of Mom and me together. In its place, here's a picture of actor George Clooney with his mother.

The crowds inside were one person fewer this year, but if they were anything like usual they likely looked something like the chaos and horror evoked by Picasso's masterpiece Guernica.

That's Not All!

Actually, it is. I'll be back with a real post, one of these days.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Collaborating With Strangers

I seem to have a reputation as somebody who knows how to get rid of unwanted fabric, and I'm called on in this capacity more often than you'd think. I skim the best for myself -- of course -- but I also have a pretty good idea of which charities would be interested in which fabrics, and how to get the fabrics to them. And, I know when something is just garbage.

Early this year, a big cardboard box of scraps landed on my lap. Initially, I thought it was one of the worst hauls ever. Lots of shirting, much of it literally from old chopped-up shirts, and stretch fabrics galore in wildly unfashionable colors and patterns. I took the box home and ignored it for a while, and only a few days later set myself to the task of sorting it out. In the bottom, wadded up under all of the dross, I found this:

It is a complete quilt top. Each of the blocks has a woman's name embroidered in the center, most of them old-fashioned first names but a few "Mrs. x" and one, interestingly, "Mother." And that was that. No other clues at all.

It was a quandry. It represented far too much work, and was inherently too cool a thing, to throw out. But it was also far too much someone else's project for me to want to devote weeks to making it into a finished quilt... and what would I do with it then, after all?

Deciding it needed a good home, I put it on Ebay as an unfinished quilt top. It worked. It was bought by a woman in Salem who adores it, and who does intend to finish it. She has an interesting theory about its history. Like me, she thinks that its original construction dates to the 1930s. It seems possible that, after the person or people who made the blocks got them together, they suddenly looked way too much like a certain symbol being used by Nazi Germany. There's no way to prove this one way or the other, but it is an interesting and plausible theory.

Indigo Stars

The other treasure in the bottom of this unpromising box was the set of Indigo Stars I wrote about a few months ago.

Earlier this year, in a box of scrap fabric, I found a set of 20 hand-pieced blocks, a star pattern in indigo-on white. They are, in a sense, nothing special -- the craftsmanship is moderate at best, the fabric quality was poor to begin with and has not improved with age. Nor do I have any idea who made them; certainly no one with any connection to me or my family. And of course, I am completely smitten by them, and want to do something lovely with them.
The stars all look more or less like this:

It's a very handsome pattern, but the individual blocks vary by as much as two inches in height and width from each other, and many are in and of themselves noticably out of square. So, in order to incorporate them into a larger piece, I first needed to put a frame around each block, and then trim all of the new "block-in-frames" to a uniform size.

I am REALLY pleased with the way it is working out. The arrangement seems both to set off the uniformity of the original blocks to good effect, which is after all what you want in a traditional block quilt, but also, if you get up close and personal with them, to showcase each block's idiosyncracies.

Mrs.5000 and I have wondered a lot what my unknown collaborater, probably a woman of modest quilting skills (or someone whose most proficient quilter days were in the past or in the future) working in the 1930s, would think of what I have done here. I hope she would like it. She would probably be surprised to see me in my studio, listening to the football game and taking occasional breaks to catch up with my moves in online Scrabble games.

Game Plan

Having completed the face for Indigo Stars, I'll be putting it aside now for at least a few months. I've got a new set of short term goals, a little aggressive but I think doable. By the end of the next three weeks, I would like to have Two Complex Shapes and Ice and Fire ready to hang, the graduation quilt for Niece #1 basically pieced (excepting borders), and the quilting finished on Labyrinth.
Onward! I'll report back.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Progress Report at Week Ten

Zowie, it has been a quietly busy couple of weeks, but I've still managed to sneak in bits of quilting progress here and there, supplemented by an all day binge on Sunday. Time for an official progress report.

First Priority Projects

Ice & Fire -- Is done, except for the handwork. It still needs some threads buried, the binding tacked down, and a sleeve. But, with the handwork-intensive holidays coming up, that makes it as good as done.

Graduation Quilt for Niece #1 -- The pieceing on this sucker is going much faster than I expected, despite the complications of its irregular layout. I'd say it is 50 - 60% assembled at this point. I'm not showing any pictures of this one, though, since it's a gift.

Labyrinth -- I worked up my nerve on Sunday morning, which was surprisingly difficult, and started into the machine quilting in the afternoon. It is a big sucker, so the sheer bulk of it creates some difficulties even though I'm using a very straightforward quilting pattern. I'm surprised by how much fun it has been, so far. I'm quilting along the "path" through the piece, so it is kind of like I'm enacting the meditative practice of walking the labyrinth, except with a sewing machine needle. Here's what it looks like, from my perspective:

Three or four hours in, and I'm maybe 15% through the quilting.

Second Priority Projects

Somehow, I have completely skipped over the second priority projects so far this year. Funny how that worked.

Third Priority Projects

Indigo Stars -- This one has just FLOWN together, which makes sense what with my anonymous collaborator having done all of the heavy lifting 70 years ago. The top is 90% assembled. And might I add, it's going to look smashing.

The Four Seasons -- No particular progress on these. I need to buy a matching backing fabric for the two newer ones.

The Symbol -- Still WAAAAY back in the planning process for this one.

Two Complex Shapes -- This requilting project is, like Ice and Fire, all over except the handwork. I just need to bury (lots of) lose threads, and re-attach the hanging sleave. And it looks terrific, thank you very much, as long as you don't notice the patch I had to make for it.

Fourth Priority Projects

Well, I skipped over the Second Priority, but I didn't skip THAT far over the Second Priority.


Dogme: Addendum

Here's another little piece of Dogme. Or maybe Bunnyme. I don't know if this is a common thing or a local thing, or if my mom is maybe just nuts, but when she started me quilting she suggested you "should," in a scrap quilt, "hide a rabbit." In other words, there should be a fabric with a rabbit somewhere in the design, but inconspicuous.

In general terms, I think this means that it adds to the experience of a quilt if you incorporate surprises, things that aren't going to be noticed on first examination but might be discovered at second look, or third look, or several years down the road. So especially when I'm making a quilt as a gift, or for a child, I always try to hide some metaphorical "rabbits."

But I hide literal rabbits too. Here's the one in Labyrinth:

...aaaaand I'm outta here. Have a good day!

Monday, November 05, 2007

My Quilting Dogme


If you watch European movies at all, you probably remember the "Dogme" movement from a few years back. A group of Scandinavian directors came up with a list of fairly arbitrary rules, a "dogma," about what would and would not be allowable in their films. Because the rules they chose were pretty spartan -- no background music was allowed, for instance, unless it was music that the characters in the movie would hear -- most American audiences hated Dogme films. I kind of liked them, though, and I especially thought that the IDEA of the dogma was kind of interesting.

Regardless of what the rules are, actually, I tend to enjoy artwork that is created within a set framework. Whether its the limited vocabulary of shapes available to a traditional Haida artist, or the self-imposed mathematical obsessions of a piece by Sol Lewit, it's fascinating to see an artist react and respond to, and be inspired by, the constrictions of their own dogmas. (Of course, available technologies, as well as the cultural norms of artistic training and consumption, create subtle dogmas for EVERY artist. But we won't go there.)

The point of all this is that I've been thinking about my own dogmas lately. Mind you, I've never sat down and said, "The following are going to be the rules of my quilting." No, my dogma has evolved over time, according to what specific kinds of work I enjoy doing, and according to what I like my final product to look like.

I imagine most people who have made more than one or two quilts have their own dogmas, though they might not think of it that way. Some people only do hand quilting, some people are only interested in applique, some people really only want to work with batiks. Whatever. It's their M.O., their style, their artistic choices.... their Dogma!

My Dogme

I use Simple Geometric Shapes. Almost everything I've made has been an arrangement of squares, rectangles, and triangles.

I do Simple Straight Pieceing. People do tremendous work with paper pieceing, in which cut paper shapes are used as a foundation that adds a great deal of precision and allows the pieceing of very intricate patterns. But for some reason, I haven't been tempted by this technique yet.

I create Simplistic Quilting Patterns. This has more to do with my skill level than conscious choice. But, that's part of where dogmas come from.

I make Nothing Figurative. My quilts are relentlessly abstract by design. Anything pictoral has to come from the fabric.

I use No Photoimages. You see an increasing number of quilts incorporating photographs that have been printed onto fabric. But, you won't see this in my quilts.

I use Jewel Tones. I tend to use bright, saturated colors, along with very light fabrics that bring them into relief.

I use Single-Color Prints. I tend to gravitate towards fabrics with a pattern in a single color, rather than fabrics with a multi-color pattern. The exception is with batiks, which I love and which -- contrary to many other peoples' dogmas -- I will happily use side by side with conventional prints.

I use Straight Cotton. No silk, no wool. Very occasionally flannel. Anything else goes into the bin for "other" fabrics with the corderoy, jersey knits, and fake fur.


Longtime readers may know my ancient kittygirl, Yoyo:

But I don't think I've ever introduced my step-kittyboy, Caliban:

They are showing off progress on the "Indigo Stars" project, which has really been flying along. In fact, I've made a bunch of progress on several projects. I'll brag about it in a few days!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Machine

So this is a sentimental story about a man and his sewing machine.

It's an old machine, a 1973 Kenmore, back when they made 'em out of metal and therefore fairly indestructable. It isn't great, and it certainly isn't fancy, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm able to use it for the rest of my life.

I was in graduate school when I learned to quilt, so there was really no possibility of buying something as extravagant as a sewing machine. I planned on, for the foreseeable future, doing my designing and cutting at home, then pieceing everything together as quickly as possible on my mom's machine at Christmas and Summer breaks.

While this was happening, my older brother was buying his house in Ashland, Oregon. It was one of those "as is" home sales, meaning that he also ended up buying lots of miscellaneous crap stored in the basement. Amongst that crap was the old Kenmore.

"What should I do with this sewing machine?" he asked my mom.

"You know, your brother would really love that as a Christmas present," she told him.

"Really?" he asked.

And that's how I got my sewing machine. He gave my sister a circular saw. It was the best Christmas ever.

Why I Love My Sewing Machine

1. It's old enough to be cool. Keepin' it real!

2. It does everything a sewing machine needs to do: it makes a straight stitch, on very rare occasions a zig-zag stitch, and a couple times a decade a buttonhole. All you need.

3. It took a while, but I found a walking foot for it. (That's a gizmo that grabs the fabric from both top and bottom, instead of just the bottom, to feed fabric under the needle.)

4. Also, although I can't "lower the feed dogs" (never mind), I can still do free motion quilting with a "darning plate." I like having a "darning plate". How many guys do YOU know who have a "darning plate"?

5. That metal indestructibility thing is O.K.!

6. And, not to get all after-school special on you, but hey! My brother gave it to me!

Why I Will Get Another One Next Year

Next fall, I will send the last student loan check into the black hole. Then, by way of celebration, I'm gonna get me a new machine. Here's why.

1. The actual sewing surface on the Kenmore is only about three inches by eight inches, which is waaaaay too small for quilting.

(although things got much, much better when I got a custom "Clutter Gutter," which is an awesome supplemental sewing surface made for exactly this purpose by a woman here in Portland. I can't recommend it highly enough.)

2. It doesn't have a very wide "throat." The opening on the right side of the needle is average at best. When you are working on a full-size quilt, you have to ram a lot of twisted up fabric and batting through that space, so you don't want it to be small. A big throat is the main thing I'll be looking for in a new machine.

3. A few modern gizmos are cool. Getting the top and bottom threads at the same level of tension is a technicality that's important, and a real pain in the butt on an older machine. On lots of new machines, that's super easy. Also, you can set most of them so they always stop with the needle down. That's important, because it gives you more control when you're stitching around a corner.

4. The old machine is, well, old. It needs to be repaired every few years.

5. It's a HUGE pain to oil. Really. It takes, like, a half hour.

6. If I had two machines, I could host a little craft night sort of dealie. Or maybe take a student. That sort of thing.

Audience Participation Time

So that's the story with my machine. What's YOUR machine like?

[Last Year in SotC: I was working on my machine quilting skills, and my practice pieces were looking pretty cool. I'm not doing anything very intricate right now. But, I'm actually machine quilting real quilts, instead of just practicing, so that's a big improvement.]

Saturday, October 20, 2007


I. Cut. Into. A. Quilt.....

I was trying to cut off some of the painter's tape that I've been using to mark quilting lines, and of course the fabric stuck lightly to the tape and so I was cutting into fabric too.

After considering the obvious options -- suicide, joining a monastery, throwing my sewing machine through the window and never, ever, ever doing any quilting again, ever -- I got to work on, sigh, a patch.

Tell me it's not too visible? Unfortunately, it's a little worse in real life, but maybe not terrible terrible...

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Ice & Fire" It Is!!

The chads have been examined, the ballets have been counted, and the Name-That-Quilt is officially "Ice & Fire." Thanks to everyone for your suggestions and votes.

Better yet, I had a little consult this week with master quilter Mom5000 (which reminds me, I should do a post on Mom5000 one of these days) and she gave me the advice I wanted to hear: call the quilting on, um, "Ice & Fire" mostly done (there's still a little detail work left to do), and bind that sucker! So it looks like it will be the first finished project of the season.


I've been doing a little bit of sprucing up around the blog. It looks a little less spartan around here with a background in the masthead, for instance. Did that a couple weeks ago.

I've just added two new lists of links down the left side. The first one, "Community and Quilt Shops," will seem perfectly normal to quilters but maybe a little strange for non-quilters. Why a list of shops? Well, you have to understand that a good quilt shop is not only a place to buy fabric and gear, but also a hub of quilting culture. It's where classes are taught and ideas are exchanged. They are kind of the -- to get a little overwrought -- spiritual homes of the craft.

The second new list is of quilt shows that I've either been in before, or would like to enter pieces for in the future. I'm adding this list partially for your information and edification, of course, but even more as a challenge and reminder to myself. It's fun to put quilts in shows, and it's good to remember that you WANT to put quilts in shows. It keeps you focused on improving.

The shows I've listed are a real mix. A couple are larger, regional affairs, and several are of course in or near the Portland area, where I live. The last three, though, are on the South Coast of Oregon, where I grew up and where my parents still live. I like to keep a toe in the quilt scene down there. The larger quilt shows have their own websites, but for the smaller shows I've just linked out to sites that mention them. If you happen to know of other shows in the Portland area, I would be interested in hearing about them.


Friday, October 12, 2007

The Seam Allowance

The current Name That Quilt standings:

Ice and Fire -- 3
Star Halos -- 3
Saturn's Night Sky -- 1
Refraction #4 -- 1
Evening Star -- 1

If you haven't voted, check in here and throw in your two cents worth. Polls close next weekend.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Check here.

Or, if you would like to help me come up with a good symbol....

I'm soliciting ideas related to another quilt project at my other blog, here.

The Passion and Intrigue of the Seam Allowance

It seems like most of the people reading SOtC at this point are quilters themselves. Originally, most of the readers were non-quilters, and I was trying to explain the basics of the craft to them. Did anybody actually read these introductions to someone else's hobby? Who knows. But today, in the original spirit of the blog, I present this fascinating discussion of the Seam Allowance.

To start with: You don't want to think too hard about the details of how a sewing machine works. You just don't. It's hard to figure out, and it doesn't seem like it should actually work, and you'll forget it almost immediately, and just have to work it out again next time you get curious. Basically, though, you've got two threads -- the top thread and the bobbin thread -- that interlock at every stitch through the two (or more) layers of fabric that you are sewing together.

Now, the weave of the fabric is what holds the threads in place. Because of that, you don't want your stitches to be right next to the cut edge of your fabric. If the stitch is too close to the edge, the fabric will unravel in no time, and your seam will come undone.

In quilt-making, there is a nearly universal standard distance between the edge of any piece of fabric and the stiching used to piece it. That distance, called the "seam allowance," is one quarter of an inch.

In designing quilts and cutting fabrics, it's really critical to remember your seam allowance. If you want your quilt to consist of 5" squares, you have to cut 5 1/2" squares -- 5" plus 1/4" on all sides. If you want to alternate between 9" squares and little 3 x 3 checkerboards of 3" squares, you need to cut 9 1/2" and 3 1/2" squares. (If you are going to cut a triangle, or anything else that isn't rectangular, it gets more complicated. You'll be doing some applied geometry.)

When you are -- to use my very least favorite quilt term -- "fussycutting," or cutting a specific piece to make it ~exactly right~ for where that piece is going in the quilt, you have to think about the seam allowance. Anything on the outer 1/4" is going to disappear; it gets pressed, or literally folded, under the quilt face.

Here are some two inch squares from the Oregon Map Quilt, before pieceing. Keep an eye on that one three across and three down. See how much yellow it has in it? We don't like that. But we're not worried. Also, notice the square on the lower left, the one with purple grapes all around its edges.

Here are the same squares sewn into strips. Now they are 1 1/2 inches wide. Much of the yellow in three across, three down is folded underneath now.

And here are the same squares in the final product, with the strips sewn together. The yellow is gone. And there's just a couple of grapes left (representing LaGrande, actually) in the fabric that was on the lower left. The rest of the purple is safely out of sight, hidden in the seam allowance.

When I started this post, I made myself the challenge of trying to write about seam allowances in a way that would be accessible and interesting to the non-quilter. And I see that I've failed miserably. Ah, well.

See ya next week!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Name That Quilt! General Election

Name That Quilt!

First of all, thanks to everyone for your excellent quilt name suggestions. I took them, tampered with a few of them, and picked five that I like. Since I believe in doing things in a open and democratic fashion, I will leave the final determination to a vote of the SoTC readers.

Over on the right is yet another picture of the quilt in question.

Here are the candidates. Vote!

Evening Star
Refraction #4.
Ice and Fire
Saturn's Night Sky

Speaking of Group Participation....

My friend Jennifer and I had the idea earlier this year of seeing if we could round up a group of people interested in making quilts based on Decemberists songs. A "quilt challenge" sort of thing. I haven't really done much with the idea, because I just don't think the demographics are probably right. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If you think the Decemberists quilt challenge might be right for you, please follow this flowchart:
  • Do you quilt, or would you like to?

  • If so, have you ever heard of the Decemberists?

  • If so, do you have some enthusiasm for the music of the Decemberists?

  • If so, can you imagine having the time and inclination to create a quilt based on a Decemberists song?

  • If so, let me know.

Quilt Season 2007: the Progress Report!

Labyrinth is still on the back burner for another week or two, although it was really sweet of several readers to protest this. I prepared the binding for it yesterday, but won't be putting that on for months yet. My plan is to start quilting it in a couple of weeks.

Name That Quilt is also on the back burner. I have finished my minimal quilting plan for it, and am thinking about whether I want to keep going and double the current quilting density, or just to decide that finished is good and declare victory. I'd actually like to get my mom's input on this, so it may just stay on the back burner until the next time I see her.

Niece #1's Graduation Quilt has made huge progress. I spent about 4 hours last weekend just laying it out, piece by piece, on a big sheet on the bedroom floor. Then I went through and pinned every piece to the sheet. I will probably start pieceing the face together next weekend.

Four Seasons is also on the back burner. I've assembled the faces for both "Spring" and "Summer," and now I need to find backing fabric that more or less matches what I used on the other two. I'll probably do most of the actual assembly over Thanksgiving.

Indigo Stars hasn't progressed.

With so many projects having reached a back-burner stage, there's also another one that has joined the active pile. On my pre-season goal list, I mentioned Two Complex Shapes, a wall hanging I made back in 1999. In terms of pieceing and design, 'Shapes is pretty cool. Unfortunately, I made it when my actual quilting skills were minimal, so it was very crudely quilted and, in part, tied. After years of hanging, it is a little saggy. Jovaliquilts commented that it doesn't look finished, and I completely agree. So now, eight years later, I'm finishing it.

I'm using the painter's tape trick again, and I can already tell I'm going to be really happy with the result. See how much better the partially quilted areas already look, compared to the still unquilted areas? (The brighter blue at the bottom is an area prepped with painter's tape and ready for quilting.)

An Acheiveable Goal

I haven't been to a meeting of my guild for a long time, but I'm going tomorrow night and should be going regularly from here on out. There are meetings every month, every other month they are held in the daytime, when I work. So, I go to a meeting every two months.

I won't have any completed projects this time, of course. After this meeting, though, I think I should be able to present a strong completed project at "Show and Tell" every two months, all the way through to next summer. So that's my goal.

On a minor note, I've finally finished posting photos to the entries from the first year of SoTC, from back when it was on "Friendster." So, if you want to dig around in the older posts of this blog for some reason, they're ready for you.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Wrestling With Quilting Pictures, Plus a Tag

(Here to Name That Quilt? Go two posts down, to this one.)

Geez, getting a photo of quilting in a red-color area of a quilt is murder! The photos I posted yesterday, which were supposed to show the quilting on the Name-That-Quilt, did no such thing.

I try again. These ones look pretty good in their original 3000 x 2000 pixel resolution; hopefully as they are displayed here they will at least give you the IDEA of how the quilting looks.

Here's what it looks like on the back (with lots of orange threads sticking out that haven't been buryed yet).
Did that help? No? Oh well.

I've Been Tagged! Su Bee of "Pieces of Time." So I'm "it."
The game is to describe yourself with adjectives beginning with the letters of your name. Should be doable, let's give it a whirl...
M is for male. Which is not a particular distinction -- roughly half the planet shares this trait, and no I do not expect a medal. It is maybe significant in a quilting context, however.
I is for independent. I don't like following other peoples' patterns.
C is for color, um, "color-loving." I've always had a base-of-the-spine attraction to bright colors. I probably wouldn't be quilting if I didn't.
H is for historically conscious. This is becoming increasingly important to me, especially as I've started to take on some projects with blocks that were originally made decades before I was born.
A is for amateur. I do not claim to be an expert at this.
E is for equiangular. Phew! Had to get something in there that got across my enthusiasm for the basic simple shapes: squares, rectangles, and triangles.
L is for lines. I'm finally starting to get comfortable with the actual lines of quilting that finish a piece. About time.
And now I notice that nothing in the tag says that your adjectives have to be about quilting per se. Damn, that explains why it was so hard.

I guess I should keep the tag alive by offering it forward: Rebel? Quilty? Gl? Want in on this? Don't feel obligated on my account....

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Quilting Pattern on the Name-That-Quilt

Are you here to Name That Quilt? That's going on here.

Rebel asked about the quilting pattern I'm using on the Name-That-Quilt quilt. It's basically concentric lines at one inch intervals within some of the shapes of the pattern. Here's what is looks like, kind of, although all of the red in the design makes it kinda difficult to photograph:

I'm pretty happy with how exact I've been able to get the quilting lines. Want to know how I do it?

Painter's tape!

Since the tape is an inch wide, you just stick it to your quilt face in adjoining strips. Then, you sew in between the strips.

I actually finished this stage of the Name-That-Quilt quilting today. The question I'm mulling over now is whether I want to do more quilting on it -- maybe even go in-between those one-inch lines to make concentric shapes 1/2 inch apart -- or whether this much is good.

(In fact, I did more quilting today than any other day, ever. I decided last week that today was going to be breakfast-to-bedtime quilting -- The Quilting Death March, I've been calling it, with my usual impeccable good taste -- and it turns out that you can get a hell of a lot done when you throw a whole day at it. I'll show you what I've been up to in a progress report next weekend.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Name That Quilt!

As Quilt #40 zips towards the finish line, I'm starting to wonder about its name. At some point, I fell into calling it "Stained Glass Batik," which is not terrible but not great either. Since there is a whole genre of "stained glass quilts," and this ain't one of them, it seems kind of misleading. But on the other hand, no other name has grabbed me either.

Therefore, I am turning to you, the State of the Craft readership, for help in my time of need. Please! Help me name my quilt!

Here are the rules, because I like making up rules:

1. Submit your suggestions in the comments section.
2. Submit as many suggestions as you like.
3. If I really like one of them, I'll use it and you WIN!
4. Maybe there will be some kind of prize, if you want. A fat quarter or something.

How does that sound?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I Didn't Have Enough Projects Going

On the bus to work the other day, I sketched out a quilting "work plan." I listed the four projects I've been working on this September and what specific tasks I'd been doing on them week by week, then projected out three more weeks. Strange behavior? Sure. But, this exercise in overblown project management made it clear that a couple of quilts were reaching points where they'd have to be set aside for a while. Since I've been enjoying the pace of having four different projects to work on, that gave me an excuse to bring a few other pieces up into the active pile over the next few weeks.

Here's the progress report for the last two weeks:

Labyrinth: I've laid it out and pinned it to its backing and batting, so it is ready for quilting at this point. But, I'm still quilting Batik Stained Glass and for some reason don't like the idea of having two pieces at the machine quilting stage at the same time. So, Labyrinth is the one that leaves the active pile for a few weeks at this point.

Batik Stained Glass: All of the loose threads from the "cool" areas have been buried, and about 1/3 of the "warm" areas have been quilted. I'm postponing for now the decision on whether there will be another finer round of quilting after this first go-round. It is looking pretty good....

Niece #1's Graduation Quilt: is now underway! At the beginning of last week, I set out a cutting mat and the fabrics I had selected...

...and over the course of the week, gradually cut out a couple three hundred squares in the various sizes I'll need. It went faster than I expected, and I might be able to do some preliminary laying-out next weekend, depending on how things go.

Four Seasons: Two weekends ago, I showed pictures of a layout for the "spring" piece and a fabric selection for the "summer" piece of this, this, um.... what's the word for it? Two elements makes a diptych, three makes a triptych, but is there such a thing as a quadtych? No?

Anyway, I was a little dissatisfed with the innermost two fabrics in "spring," and also thought that the innermost two fabrics of "summer" were a little too, you know, springy. So I did the obvious thing, and transferred the "summer" fabrics to "spring," and found two better fabrics for summer. And now we're good. I'm in the process of assembling both of them at this point.

And Introducing Project #51: Indigo Stars

The project I selected to take Labyrinth's slot in the active roster is a salvage mission. Earlier this year, in a box of scrap fabric, I found a set of 20 hand-pieced blocks, a star pattern (anybody want to ID it for me?) in indigo-on white. They are, in a sense, nothing special -- the craftsmanship is moderate at best, the fabric quality was poor to begin with and has not improved with age. Nor do I have any idea who made them; certainly no one with any connection to me or my family. And of course, I am completely smitten by them, and want to do something lovely with them.

There's no way of knowing what my anonymous collaborator had in mind, back in the (probably) 1930s. My own original idea had been to simply alternate the blocks in a checkerboard pattern with a nice white-on-white print, which would provide a simple but not especially striking setting in which to show them off. That idea seemed pretty good until I started measureing them yesterday, so I could figure out how much white-on-white I would need. That's when I realized an important ramification of the iffy craftsmanship -- they are neither uniform in size nor especially square. Any given side can vary between 12 and 14 inches. Eek! So much for a checkerboard pattern.

After an hour or so of fussing with fabrics on hand, and a page of notes, diagrams, and calculations on graph paper, I came up with Plan B. In Plan B, each individual block will be custom pieced to 2-3" indigo borders, which will produce a somewhat larger block a uniform 18" square. These will be placed in either a 4x4 grid or a 4x5 grid (we'll see), set off by a three inch sashing (if that's the right word) of white-on-white. It will look just a tiny bit like this:

Having got that far, I hopped on the bike and rode to our local fabric megastore, where I drove the cutters a little batty with a change of mind and a stock check before coming up with two fabrics that I think are going to be do the trick. It's been prewashed and pressed, and is ready for cutting.

And that, my friends, is the State of the Craft.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dude! Check Out My Stash!

Love Your Stash
It's not surprising that most quilters accumulate a fabric collection. Every project generates a certain amount of scrap fabric, and fabric gets purchased for projects that never quite manage to happen. Plus, since people who quilt have a lot of of native enthusiasm for fabric in the first place, it's not too startling that most quilters occasionally -- or frequently! -- buy fabric just because it's pretty, it speaks to them, and they'd like to use it in some future project, someday.

What is strange about stashes is the love/hate relationship that so many quilters have with their collection. I have seldom heard anyone boasting, reveling, or simply sharing the joy of owning a lot of really beautiful yardage. By all appearances, most quilters love to hate their stash, and hate to love it. Within the community, quilters constantly joke -- and I mean constantly -- about their "addiction" to shopping for fabric, about their concealment of fabric purchases from spouses, about their fabric storage problems, about their need to get rid of fabric or "go on a fabric diet." Fabriholic and stashbusting are well-worn psuedo-words in the culture.

There's a nervous undercurrent to all of this joking. Talk about the stash comes with a little edge of... something. Guilt, I think. Fabric costs money, after all, and there seems to be a sense among the (mostly) women who quilt that it's a questionable use of money. A sociologist would probably say that women have been conditioned to feel ashamed of spending money on their own activities, rather than on their husbands and children. And she might be right.

I can't relate. I love my stash. My feeling about having a large fabric collection (which I was inflicting on Rebel just this morning) is that there's nothing wrong, if you've got the dosh and the space, with keeping supplies and materials on hand to fuel and support your creative endeavors. "As an active and proficient craftsperson," I sloganized, "you should be proud of having the essentials of your craft on hand!" That's my view, and I'm stickin' to it.


I am lucky to have a small room that I can devote mostly to quilting (although my computer stuff, our household businessy stuff, and other various odds and ends share the space). It is perhaps a little more, um, rough-hewn and utilitarian than most quilt studios. Here's what it looks like.

The heart of my stash, pieces from 1/8 yard to 1 yard, is held in twin IKEA "Robin" dressers. With 8 perfectly-sized drawers apiece on smooth sliders, they feel like they were custom-made for fabric storage. Safely away from sunlight, folded fabric can be stored vertically, like index cards. A little strip of every piece in the drawer is visible at a glance. I have two drawers apiece of blues, greens, purples, multicolored prints, and batik prints, one drawer apiece of rusts, reds, aquas, and solids, and a two-drawer sequence of black-and-whites, yellows, browns, and oranges. Within the drawers, fabrics are roughly organized by value. It sounds more finicky than it really is.

The "chifferobe" (a word I have never heard uttered by anyone except my mother) in the other corner holds special sets: African fabrics, 2-inch wide strips, a group of batik half-yards that my big sister gave me for Christmas, and the tie-dyes I made last month, for instance. There's another crate for extra storage on top of it, and a little stereo on top of that, but I had the "Four Seasons" pieces set up for reference when I took this picture.

Turning to the right, you find my studio closet. There is a shelf for musical equipment, but also four little bins for scrap pieces (cut squares, uncut blues & purples, uncut greens & aquas, everything else) and about a dozen shoe boxes holding (among other things) juvenile prints, cut denim squares, unused blocks from old projects, flannel scraps, 4", 4 1/2", and 5" squares, and good-for-nothing-but-machine-quilting-practice fabric. (This is also where the household mending goes.)

Pwew! Had enough? But wait. Because oodles of unused space was left under the roof when our house was built in 1906, I was able to cut a door into the left-hand wall of the closet, lay down a plywood floor, and wall in the attic space behind it to create a storage room. It's not all fabric storage space, naturally, but there's room for these tubs of batting and larger flannel pieces. Quilt books and magazines go on the bookshelf on the right.

Finally, two tubs of large pieces, 2 yards and longer. I keep these separate in case they need to be backs, or to be the dominant fabric in a quilt. A third tub is usually here as well, full of the non-quilt fabrics that tend to wash up at my feet, everything from stretch synthetics to upholstery fabric to fake fur.

If you are doubting the wisdom, or sanity, of holding on to this much fabric, here's a lil' anecdote: This morning, I started cutting fabric for Niece #1's graduation quilt. I'm going to need, among other things, a couple hundred 3 1/2" square blocks for this project. That's a lot of work, so you can imagine how pleased I was to discover in my stash a stack of around 100 blocks already cut to 3 1/2" square! They have been waiting for this moment ever since I abandoned the project I originally cut them for. In 1994.

Thanks for taking the tour. I'm proud of my stash. You be proud of yours, too!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

New Quilt Year: the Second Weekend

Quilt Year 2007 - 2008 is off to an aggressive start! I'm continuing to pour effort into my four chosen projects -- so far, resisting the temptation to dig any deeper into the project pile -- and have been very happy with the progress. And if Mrs. 5000 has made a few pointed remarks about housework equity, well, I can catch up with that.... in a while. She won't get too angry. I think.

Progess Report:

  • Stained Glass Batik. As the OSU football team got their big, mud-slapping Beaver tails handed to them on Thursday, and during the first half of Oregon's exhilerating win over Michigan on Saturday, I finished the first round of quilting in the "cool" areas of this quilt, which is about half of the total surface. I'm very happy with the progress. I'll need to spend a few hours of hand-work time with it before doing the other half, hiding the many loose threads by burying them within the quilt. I'll also need to pick out which specific thread I want to use for the top thread in the "warm" areas.

  • Labyrinth. I selected and prepared a backing fabric, and laid out a sheet of batting to relax and lose its folds and wrinkles. After work on Monday, I'll take apart our bed so that I can use the whole bedroom floor to do the pinning. For you non-quilters, "pinning" is the process where you stick together the three layers of the quilt -- top, batting, and back -- in preparation for the quilting. You have to spread the back out fairly taut for it to work well, and I do this by pinning it into a carpet. For a big piece like Labyrinth, the only carpeted space in the house big enough is the bedroom, sans bed. Mrs. 5000 has agreed that we can sleep in the guest room on Monday night. She is a trooper.

  • Niece #1's Graduation Quilt. This one is still in what you might call "pre-production," but I did some thinking and some pencil-and-paper work with the design. I also entered it into the "official" list I keep of my quilts. Auspiciously, it is Quilt #50, which means it is more or less the 50th project I've started. It doesn't necessarily mean that it will be the 50th project I'll finish. Stained Glass Batik is Quilt #40 on the list, and Labyrinth is Quilt #37, and they are both conspicuously unfinished!

  • The Four Seasons. Numbers #35a - 35d on the list, this aging fiasco is the oldest unfinished project I have going. Last weekend, I was working on picking out a series of fabrics for "Spring" that would match the color values in "Fall" and "Winter."

After a little editing this weekend, and quite a bit of laborious cutting, I
have this "rough draft" laid out:

And, feeling good about the progress, I went ahead and picked out a possible
color sequence for "Summer."

Blogging About Blogging

Joining the Q4P blog ring has been great! Hello to everyone who has stopped in from the blog; I really appreciate all of the kind comments to last week's post! It has been fun to start to explore other blogs on the ring as well!

I've also been spiffing up State of the Craft a little during my lunch hours. The posts from the first year, back when SotC was on (shudder...) Friendster, were until recently lumped together in one big ugly unreadable post called "The First Season." I've gone back and separated those out; not all of them have their images yet, but they will in a day or two. I've been going back and indexing everything, too. Why? you ask. Well, why not?


Monday, September 03, 2007

New Quilt Year: the First Five Days

I've managed to put some time into quilting on all five of these first days of the 2007-2008 season, and it has felt good to get my head back into some projects. I feel like I made some solid initial progress. Right on.

I concentrated my effort on four projects from my list. Or maybe that's not the right word. Maybe I dispersed my effort over four different projects from my list. Whichever. In any event, here's what I did:

The Four Seasons. "Fall" and "Winter" are basically done. I laid out a possible color sequence for "Spring," and dropped by our local fabric megastore to fill in one gap. I'll let that sit for a week or two, and then revisit the sequence to see if it still looks good.

Niece #1's Graduation Quilt. I pulled fabric -- greens and tans, largely -- to try to establish a basic color set for the piece. Again, I'll just play with the colors for a little while until they feel right, before I start doing any cutting.

Batik Stained Glass. Did a respectable amount of tedious machine quilting on this one. That's going to be a constant for a while -- lots and lots of tedious machine quilting. Lots and lots and lots of tedious machine quilting. Why do we do this, again?

Labyrinth. This was the exciting one. When I started the weekend, this 3000-piece project was still in seven pieces. Lots of pinning, and a few quick sessions of sewing and pressing, brought it to the "finished top" stage. This thing has been in the making for four years, by the way, so it's especially nice to have it reach this point. I'm cautiously happy with it. Here's a sneak preview for ya:

The Focus Question

Do you work on one thing at a time, or do you like to have several projects moving forward at once? I can see why having just a single iron in the fire would be a good idea, but I like to mix up what I'm doing in terms of cutting, pieceing, pinning, quilting, and so on. Plus, I get excited enough about a variety of quilts that it's hard for me not to be distracted from the main one I'm working on. In addition to the four quilts above, there are no fewer than four additional projects from the queue that are also kind of on my mind. Is working on eight projects simultaneously allowed?

Fabric is Yet Still Drawn to Me

My odd little streak of tripping over free fabric everywhere I turn has slowed, but not stopped. Mrs. 5000 brought me home a yard or so of a nice upholstery fabric, and maybe five yards of a very handsome linen, but she had actually shelled out a few bucks for them at a garage sale, so it wasn't really free. I found about a yard of a faded maroon solid in a free box on my Saturday run, which is not great but if nothing else will be good for machine quilting practice. So maybe my luck is winding down. But I'll still keep my eyes open.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It's New Quilting Year Eve!!

The time has come. The days are noticeably shorter, and there's a crisp, wistful hint of autumn in the air. I've spent much of the evening converting my studio space back to quilting formation. The sound gear is back under its covers, stacks of notebook have been filed away, the sewing table is unfolded to its full size. We're ready to roll. For tomorrow is the first day of quilting season.

Long-time readers know that traditionally, the quilting year begins with the first University of Oregon football game. And indeed, I am first and foremost a Duck. But I'm actually ready to fly the flag of any college team from my fair state (you can read here if you have an inexplicable desire to know about my college football loyalties, or if you just have oodles of time on your hands), and while the Ducks aren't playing until Saturday, the Oregon State Beavers take the field at 7 PDT tomorrow. And I'll be right there with them. Quilting.

A Couple Shows

As if to celebrate the new year, although actually just by coincidence, I'm sending my warhorse Log Cabin back on tour. It will be in my home town, Bandon, Oregon, at the quilt show of the annual, heh, "Cranberry Festival," September 6 to 9, or something like that. After that, it should be at the "2007 Festival of Quilts" in Gold Beach, Oregon, September 16 and 17. And after that, I think I'll retire it from shows -- I've shown it pretty much to death.

Fabric is Still Drawn to Me

After I wrote the last post, about how I keep bumping into free fabric, I went out for a run and had to cut it short when I ran into a big box of fabric that somebody had put out for free on the sidewalk. I include photoevidence for an unneccessarily sceptical quilt blogger who I won't mention specifically, but whose name sounds like "Guilty the Hipster."

The green and the stripey flannel were actually bedsheets when I found them, but a few minutes with a good pair of scissors made them into several yards each of extra-width fabric. The purple is two yards of good quality quilting fabric. The tan was a very good matched set of sheets which, for better or worse, will continue to serve in a sheet capacity for the time being.


I'm in a ring of quilt blogs! Cool! The little navigation panel for it is up there on the left somewhere, if you want to poke around.

Happy New Quilt Year, Everyone!